Judge says: Keep this opinion out of Westlaw and LEXIS

 Judges make decisions and write opinions.  Some opinions get published and some do not.  Unpublished opinions get unofficially published in West’s Federal Appendix and very often show up online.   And on infrequent occasions some opinions find their way into LexisNexis but not Westlaw; others are found in Westlaw but not LexisNexis.

Here’s a case that caught my eye while doing some docket searching (I drink POM Wonderful, so that’s why it stood out).

On December 21, 2009 Judge A. Howard Matz, of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, issued an 7-page order in the case of POM Wonderful LLC v. Welch Foods, Inc..   This opinion includes, among other things, a discussion of standing under the California Unfair Competition Act and the California False Advertising Act.  At the end of the document, the judge writes:  “This Order is not intended for publication or for inclusion in the databases of Westlaw or LEXIS.” (emphasis mine)

A quick search of Bloomberg Law dockets produces at least a dozen other orders from this same judge with this same language.

So what about Bloomberg Law.com?  Or Google Scholar?  Or Fastcase?  Justia?  May any/all of them include the order?

Or is it just the strength of the Wexis duopoly and the judge really means he does not want the order published online anywhere.

LexisNexis and Westlaw have been the big players for decades.  But Google really could be a game-changer.  As a review article in the March 8, 2010 issue of The Recorder (“Worthy Adversary”) by Oliver Benn of Google Scholar points out:

If Google wants to devote its resources to addressing its current limitations, the future of legal research could become very different.  Many courts accept briefs electronically.  Why not hyperlink cited cases in the brief to the cases’ free Google pages?

And getting back to POM Wonderful, apparently it is available in LexisNexis and Westlaw, despite the judge’s request that it not be (please see comment from Bev Butula).

Will Knowledge and People Converge?

In today’s HuffPo, Paul Lippe (Legal OnRamp founder) interviews David Curle (legal information market analyst) in “Will Knowledge & People Converge?”

The interview moves through key trends and recent history in the legal information and publishing sector (including the latest improvements offered by the ‘big guys’ at Westlaw and Lexis).

Then the discussion shifts to the impact of Google Scholar‘s free case law on the legal information market:

“It’s revolutionary in the sense that the general public now has easy access to the law of the land, something that was surprisingly hard to obtain before.”

Curle mentions the FastCase iPhone app that allows free searching of its database.   The days of charging for ‘just access’ to primary legal materials are coming to a close.    And, welcome to the generation of data.gov and law.gov:

“Law.gov has the ambition of making all primary US legal material available in standardized, machine-readable formats that can be incorporated into new kinds of information products.”

. . . .

“open access to legal sources will spur the creation of new markets for legal information among consumers, and even more so among non-lawyer professionals who need to understand a narrow field of that they work with all the time. Expect to see new products and services built on top of the free legal information that will make the law more accessible to those new markets.”

And, speaking of new products building on free content.  Curle moves on to discuss SpindleLaw.

“They are building, in a kind of collaborative, Wiki-like way, a database of the legal rules that lawyers find in court decisions and in legislation. Their idea is that it’s pretty inefficient to get to those rules by searching and reading long court opinions. They are extracting and organizing the rules with links to the legal sources. They have a long way to go to prove that the concept works, but I like the way they are trying to turn the research process on its head.”

These are very interesting times.

Law.gov video presentation now online!

In a January 2, 2010 op-ed in the New York Times entitled “A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers,” California Chief Justice Ronald George and New Hampshire Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr. asked “how can we help those who are left to represent themselves in court?”

One thing we can do is make the law of the nation freely available.  Today much of the law remains behind a pay wall, often a very expensive pay wall.

There have been efforts to liberate the law — five guys at Cornell (Cornell’s Legal Information Institute), three guys at Google (Google Scholar legal opinions), and others.  The federal government has made strides too, eCFR remains a model of free, updated legal content, but as the first paragraph explains on the eCFR website disclaims, “It is not an official legal edition of the CFR.”  State government efforts are as varied as the 50 states and District of Columbia.

So what to do?

Law.gov is a campaign to identify what a national law registry should include, and to make recommendations to the policy makers on how to structure a repository of all primary legal materials (and maybe more) at all levels of government.

The Stanford Law Library hosted a Law.gov kickoff event on January 12, 2010 and the day’s events included a terrific panel discussion with Carl Malamud, Anurag Acharya (Google Scholar lead engineer) and law professor Jonathan Zittrain, moderated by Stanford Law School lecturer Roberta Morris.  We now have a streaming video link from this discussion and it’s definitely worth viewing:

http://www.law.stanford.edu/calendar/details/3717/#related_media

Gettin’ Googly with the law

Over at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog there’s a terrific discussion of Google Scholar Legal and Online Journals (SLOJ) versus Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis, and Westlaw (“Wexisberg” being Greg Lambert’s clever amalgamation of the two big CALR vendors plus upstart Bloomberg ).

One of Greg’s observations is that:

Google Scholar has three people. Not just on the legal portion of Google Scholar, there are three people total on the entire project.

And one of these three people is less than a full self.  That’s Google’s Rick Klau who recently gave a fascinating guest lecture to our advanced legal research class.  Rick told us that he became involved with the legal project by using his “20% time.”  

[Update and correction:  Rick is not one of the 3 who make up the core team – he explains it best himself, in the comment to this post.]

Rick explained to us that Google is not investing a lot of people-time in the project and the case analysis will be accomplished by what Google does best — automated searching and links. Most certainly Google is not about to hire thousands of editors (like Wexisberg have all done) to carefully craft case summaries and headnotes.   As Rick said, “Google is being Googly” with its underlying search and PageRank tools.

Who was SLOJ designed for?  Rick said he had his mom in mind — as a member of the public who does not have access to Wexisberg.

And the public has found its way to the site.  Before Rick’s talk we gave our class an assignment and one question was to find a certain case on a free website.  We gave this assignment after SLOJ launched and made the press (including a round of discussion on the law school’s internal “law-talk” listserv) — and every student turned to  Google Scholar to answer this question!

Following Rick’s talk, and despite all the disclaimers and comments that Google is not competing with Wexisberg, one student sent us this comment about SLOJ:

First, thank you so much for arranging this talk!  I was hoping it was someone from google.  It seems that they have a very specific market to target and they are trying to stick to it.  As skeptical as he seemed about attorneys using it, though, I think it will be exceedingly helpful.  At the very least, it will be a good, free starting point which can then be used in West/Lexis.

I think she’s right!  Google is impressive and what just a very few engineers have done is amazing.  And they aren’t done either; I am sure of that.

A big day for Free Law

See Google post below.  And stay tuned for another announcement tomorrow, which will be yet another big day for Free Law.   And we here at Stanford have something cooking too.  Stay tuned.

Take a look at this posting and its comments too, from the Supreme Court of Texas Blog.

 

 

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/finding-laws-that-govern-us.html

 

Finding the laws that govern us
 
11/17/2009 09:05:00 AM

As many of us recall from our civics lessons in school, the United States is a common law country. That means when judges issue opinions in legal cases, they often establish precedents that will guide the rulings of other judges in similar cases and jurisdictions. Over time, these legal opinions build, refine and clarify the laws that govern our land. For average citizens, however, it can be difficult to find or even read these landmark opinions. We think that’s a problem: Laws that you don’t know about, you can’t follow � or make effective arguments to change.

Starting today, we’re enabling people everywhere to find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar. You can find these opinions by searching for cases (like Planned Parenthood v. Casey), or by topics (like desegregation) or other queries that you are interested in. For example, go to Google Scholar, click on the “Legal opinions and journals” radio button, and try the query separate but equal. Your search results will include links to cases familiar to many of us in the U.S. such as Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, which explore the acceptablity of “separate but equal” facilities for citizens at two different points in the history of the U.S. But your results will also include opinions from cases that you might be less familiar with, but which have played an important role.

We think this addition to Google Scholar will empower the average citizen by helping everyone learn more about the laws that govern us all. To understand how an opinion has influenced other decisions, you can explore citing and related cases using the Cited by and Related articles links on search result pages. As you read an opinion, you can follow citations to the opinions to which it refers. You can also see how individual cases have been quoted or discussed in other opinions and in articles from law journals. Browse these by clicking on the “How Cited” link next to the case title. See, for example, the frequent citations for Roe v. Wade, for Miranda v. Arizona (the source of the famous Miranda warning) or for Terry v. Ohio (a case which helped to establish acceptable grounds for an investigative stop by a police officer).

As we worked to build this feature, we were struck by how readable and accessible these opinions are. Court opinions don’t just describe a decision but also present the reasons that support the decision. In doing so, they explain the intricacies of law in the context of real-life situations. And they often do it in language that is surprisingly straightforward, even for those of us outside the legal profession. In many cases, judges have gone quite a bit out of their way to make complex legal issues easy to follow. For example, in Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court justices present a fascinating and easy-to-follow debate on the legality of internment of natural born citizens based on their ancestry. And in United States v. Ramirez-Lopez, Justice Kozinski, in his dissent, illustrates the key issue of the case using an imagined good-news/bad-news dialogue between the defendant and his attorney.

We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of several pioneers, who have worked on making it possible for an average citizen to educate herself about the laws of the land: Tom Bruce (Cornell LII), Jerry Dupont (LLMC), Graham Greenleaf and Andrew Mowbray (AustLII), Carl Malamud (Public.Resource.Org), Daniel Poulin (LexUM), Tim Stanley (Justia), Joe Ury (BAILII), Tim Wu (AltLaw) and many others. It is an honor to follow in their footsteps. We would also like to acknowledge the judges who have built this cathedral of justice brick by brick and have tried to make it accessible to the rest of us. We hope Google Scholar will help all of us stand on the shoulders of these giants.

Posted by Anurag Acharya, Distinguished Engineer